The Hypnotist's Love Story(4)

by Liane Moriarty

She had dismissed that idea. And now … There’s something I need to tell you.

She laid down her fork. Where was that man? She could see one of the waiters giving her a circumspect look, obviously trying to work out if he should offer some form of assistance.

She looked at Patrick’s half-eaten meal. He’d ordered the pork belly. A poor choice, she’d thought, but she hadn’t known him long enough to tease him about it. Pork belly! It sounded disgusting, and now it looked like a big slab of cold, congealing fat.

If he was the sort of man who ordered that sort of artery-clogging meal all the time, perhaps he’d dropped dead of a heart attack in the toilets? Should she send in that concerned-looking waiter to find out? But what if the pork belly had just disagreed with him? He’d be mortified. Well, she’d be mortified in similar circumstances. Maybe a man wouldn’t care.

She was really too old for all this dating angst. She should be at home baking cakes, or whatever it was that parents of primary-school-age children did with their nights.

She looked up again and there he was, walking back toward her. He looked shaken, as if he’d just been in a minor car crash, but he also had a “The game is up” expression, as if he’d been caught robbing a bank and was walking out with his hands in the air.

He sat down opposite her and put the napkin back on his lap. He picked up his knife and fork, looked at the pork belly, sighed and placed them down again.

“You probably think I’m some sort of lunatic,” he said.

“Well, I’m quite curious!” said Ellen in a jolly, middle-aged lady tone.

“I was hoping not to have to tell you about this until we’d … but then I realized that I was going to have to tell you tonight.”

“Just take your time.” Now she was speaking in the calm, slightly singsong voice she used with clients. “I’m sure I’ll be fine—whatever it is.”

“It’s nothing that bad!” said Patrick hastily. “It’s more embarrassing than anything else. It’s just that, OK, I’ll just come out and say it.”

He paused and grinned foolishly.

“I have a stalker.”

For a moment Ellen couldn’t quite understand what he meant. It was as if English had become her second language and she had to translate the words.

I have a stalker.

Finally she said, “Somebody is stalking you?”

“She’s been stalking me for the past three years. My ex-girlfriend. Sometimes she disappears for a while, but then she comes back with a vengeance.”

Glorious relief was washing through Ellen. Now that she wasn’t being dumped it was suddenly clear to her how much she actually liked him, how much she was hoping this would work, how she had actually allowed the words “I could fall in love with him” to cross her mind as she was putting on her mascara. The reason she’d been so deliriously happy today had not been because of the weather or the porridge or the new heating or the news. It was because of him.

A stalking ex-girlfriend was fine!

It was interesting.

Although, then again, stalking …

She saw notes written in letters cut out from magazines and newspapers. Messages written in blood on walls. Crazy fans sitting outside celebrities’ houses. Violent ex-husbands shooting their wives.

But who stalked a surveyor? (Even if he did have an especially lovely jawline?)

“So when you say stalking, what does she actually do? Is she violent?”

“No.” Patrick looked as if he was being forced to answer a series of highly personal medical questions. “Never physically violent. Occasionally she yells. Gets a bit abusive. She makes phone calls in the middle of the night, sends me letters, e-mails, text messages, but mostly she’s just there. Wherever I go, she’s there.”

“You mean she follows you?”

“Yes. Everywhere.”

“So, goodness, this must be horrible for you!” There was that middle-aged lady again. “Have you been to the police?”

He winced, as if at an uncomfortable memory. “Yes. Once. I spoke to a female police officer. I don’t know if she—look, she said all the right things, I just felt like an idiot, like a wuss. She suggested I keep a ‘Stalking Incident Log’ recording everything, and I’ve done that. She said I could take out a restraining order against her, so I was thinking about doing that, but then, when I told my ex that I’d been to the police, she said if I took it any further, she would tell them I’d been harassing her, that I’d hit her—well, you know, I’m the guy, who are they going to believe? Her, of course. So I backed right off. I just keep hoping she’ll stop. And the years keep rolling by. I can’t believe it’s been going on so long.”

“It must be…” Ellen was going to say “frightening,” but that might offend him; it was her belief that the male ego was as delicate as an eggshell. She said instead, “Stressful.” She couldn’t quite keep the undercurrent of joy out of her voice.

“In the beginning I really let it get to me,” he said. “But now I’ve sort of accepted it. It’s just how my life has worked out, but it’s hard on new relationships. Some women get freaked out by the whole thing. Some of them say they’re fine with it at first, but then they can’t handle it.”

“I can handle it,” said Ellen, quickly, as if she was at a job interview and she was proving she was up to the challenge. Hearing about ex-girlfriends’ weaknesses always brought out a competitive urge to prove she was better.

Flustered, she took a mouthful of her wine. She’d just put her cards on the table. She had basically just said: I want a relationship with you.

She pretended to be frowning down at her wineglass, as if she was about to make some disparaging comment on the quality of the wine, and when she finally looked up, Patrick was smiling at her. A big crinkle-eyed smile of pure pleasure. He reached out across the table and took her hand in his.

“I hope you can,” he said. “Because I feel really good about this. I mean, about us. The possibility of us.”

“The possibility of us,” repeated Ellen, savoring the words and the feel of his hand. It was all such rubbish about getting clinical and jaded when you were in your thirties. The feel of his hand was shooting endorphins throughout her bloodstream. She knew all about the science of love, how her brain was currently surging with “love chemicals” (norepinephrine, serotonin and dopamine), but that didn’t mean she wasn’t as susceptible as anyone else.